Scotland is hosting both The Amateur and the Women’s Amateur this year and home fans were delighted with last week’s result in the latter, which was played at Kilmarnock (Barassie) Golf Club. Louise Duncan (above), a 21-year old from just up the road at West Kilbride became the first Scottish winner of the title since 1997 when Alison Rose won an all-Scottish final against Mhairi McKay at Cruden Bay. Not that that particular fact was on Louise’s mind at all during the match – she wasn’t even aware of it but was delighted when told of her feat.
She said, “I wasn’t even born in 1997; I wasn’t even a thought. So I am unbelievably proud to be the first Scot to win the Women’s Amateur Championship in that amount of time. I am happy to have brought it home.”
Duncan lost the opening hole in the 36-hole final but after that everything turned to gold as she romped to a 9 and 8 win over Johanna Lea Ludviksdottir, Iceland’s first-ever finalist in this venerable championship. As always, to the victor the spoils and the Scot can now look forward to teeing it up in three professional majors – the Women’s Open and the Evian this summer and the US Women’s Open next year – as well as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur next April. That will certainly keep the Stirling University student and R&A scholar busy.
I wonder if she’s the first Scot to win the biggest title in women’s golf this side of the Atlantic in her own county, never mind country?In total Iceland had three players in the Championship and they can be justifiably proud of their collective efforts. Ragnhildur Kristinsdottir topped the 64 qualifiers after the 36 hole strokeplay section with fine scores of 74, 66 to be six under par. Unfortunately for her the curse of the top seed was reinforced when she fell to Ireland’s Aine Donegan of Lahinch in the opening round of the matchplay. It was bad luck, too, that the other Icelandic players met in the first round with Ludviksdottir beating her fellow International, Hulda Clara Gestsdottir on the final green.
A number of Johanna’s matches went to the wire and she just seemed to run out of steam in the final. However, she was still delighted with her week in Ayrshire and with making a little bit of Icelandic golfing history . “I am very happy with myself and proud of myself to achieve and go this far.”
I can’t help but think back to my first ever Ladies’ European Team Championship for Ireland back in 1979, at Hermitage in Dublin. It was also Iceland’s first time to play in the championship and their team arrived with cobbled together equipment and only one set of playing uniform each for the entire week. I remember the team being welcomed and supported by all the other teams, as well as by the host club and union. Any good performances, whether an individual strokeplay round or a good individual match score, were made a fuss of and highlighted.
We welcomed Iceland as they took their first steps into the golfing world abroad and it’s a joy to see their players now cropping up on every tour in the world. Some wonderful teachers from the UK travelled over to live in Iceland and share their knowledge. My pal Pat Smillie, ultimately the England coach for so many years, was an early pioneer who laid strong foundations there for the growth of the game. It must be a wonderful thing to reflect on your career and realise that you helped introduce so many to the game in a non-golfing country and then helped keep the interest alive until it became self-perpetuating and rolling along, more or less, of its own accord. That takes sustained effort on the part of many.
Sustained effort is something Jonathan Caldwell knows all about. It has been a long, slow and frequently unrewarding grind for the Ulsterman to the summit, which he achieved last Sunday when he won the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik and Annika. In a groundbreaking venture 78 men and 78 women played the same course for the same trophy and it took a very special final round of 64 by Caldwell to edge out Spain’s Adrian Otaegui by a stroke. Alice Hewson was the highest-placed female a shot further back and the only player in the field to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
I first saw Jonathan play in the 2007 Walker Cup alongside Rory McIlroy. Ulster, Irish and British & Irish teammates, the players’ paths diverged drastically after that Walker Cup. Rory amassed four majors and a number of other wins in very short order but Jonathan struggled to gain a sound footing on tour. He lost his playing rights, bounced around on a few mini-tours and had to work in a golf store to finance himself to get some starts in the minor leagues. He stayed in the arena, however, and Sunday was the reward for all that unseen work, toil, effort and doggedness. No wonder his eyes were damp as he told the members at his home club of Clandeboye to get a tab started at the bar and “crack on” with the party. I suspect they didn’t need telling twice!Kudos too, to Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam for hosting this unique event, giving the women’s game an amazing platform to show just what they can do. When the professional men players see the women as simply “players” we are making great strides and wider recognition will surely flow from the rest of the golfing and sporting worlds. And the good news is Annika and Henrik will host the event again next year. We should all be very thankful for Sweden’s contribution to our game. This small country punches mightily above its weight and has done so much for golf over the last 40 years and this innovative tournament hosted by two of its greats is another example of that. And, a fellow Ulster golfer has won his first tour event………so, a pretty perfect week.
Now, how quickly can I get to Clandeboye Golf Club?